Thursday, February 28, 2013

There They Go Again

Click the arrow to watch the hearing on YouTube.

Last year, a group of six Congressman that included Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey introduced legislation that would seize control of NASA from the President and give it to a board appointed by the President and members of Congress. It could, in theory, give control of NASA to political appointees belonging to the President's opposition party.

Introduced in September, the bill went nowhere, but it resurfaced this week as the Congress faces the spectre of sequestration on March 1.

The new bill, H.R. 823, differs somewhat from last year's bill, as Marcia Smith explains at A hearing was held yesterday to discuss the bill.

The revised bill leaves open the door for political chicanery.

If both houses of Congress are controlled by the President's opposition party, then that party would control the board 6-5.

The bill has a conflict-of-interest clause for these political appointees — they cannot be employed by an entity that has a NASA contract — but it says nothing about a financial interest, such as owning stock or drawing a pension.

The NASA Administrator would no longer submit the agency's proposed budget. The board would. And that budget would include “a strict adherence to the recommendation that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration include in a balanced program a flagship class mission, which may be executed in cooperation with one or more international partners.” Just what is a “flagship class mission” is undefined, or how it would be adequately funded.

The Board would also submit to the President a list of candidates for Administrator, Deputy Administrator and Chief Financial Officer. One change from last year's bill is substituting “may appoint” for “shall appoint”, so the President is not forced to select a candidate nominated by the opposition party. I raised the concern in last year's blog post that the bill might violate the U.S. Constitution, which grants executive powers to the President, not Congress. It may be the bill's authors agreed.

If you watch the hearing, several members and witnesses lamented how funding doesn't align with project costs. The federal funding process is a quirk of the Constitution. The budget — known as “authorization” — differs from how much Congress actually provides — called “appropriation”.

For example, The 2010 NASA Authorization Act established budget levels for commercial crew of $500 million in Fiscal Year 2012 and $500 million in Fiscal Year 2013.

For Fiscal Year 2012, the Obama administration requested $850 million for commercial crew, to reduce the so-called “gap” during which NASA would rely on the Russian Soyuz to taxi astronauts to the International Space Station. The gap was proposed by the Bush administration in January 2004 and approved by Congress later that year. It has been government policy for almost nine years.

But Congress rejected the Obama administration's request to close the gap, choosing to punish the administration by appropriating only $406 million, or $94 million less than what was authorized and $444 million less than what the administration requested.

For Fiscal Year 2013 — the budget cycle we're in now — the administration requested $829.7 million. As you may know, here we are five months into the FY13 budget but Congress has yet to pass the budget — hence the sequestration that kicks in tomorrow. The government is operating on a “continuing resolution,” essentially extending last year's appropriations until Congress acts. The last time the two houses discussed the FY13 NASA budget, the House had approved $500 million for commercial crew and the Senate $525 million — again, both far below what the administration requested to close the gap.

The bill does nothing to address this Congressional misbehavior, which is the real core of the problem, and one of the bill's authors yesterday demonstrated for the record his talent for prevarication.

Rep. Posey, who represents the Space Coast and knows better, essentially denied that the commercial crew program exists. He said:

I heard the President campaigning, saying he was going to close the gap between the Shuttle and the Constellation program, and nobody in the world was more shocked than I when, as the chairman said, he red-lined the Constellation program. That's not closing the gap. That's making the gap eternal.

So many fibs in that statement.

In his August 2008 Titusville campaign stop, Obama never promised to continue Constellation. He said he would add a Shuttle flight — which he did, STS-135. He said that he would speed “the development of the Shuttle's successor” but never said what that successor would be.

Under the Constitution, the President has no “red-line” authority. All budgetary authority lies with Congress.

In 2009, the President appointed the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, commonly known as the Augustine Committee after its chair. The Committee's report concluded that Constellation was not financially sustainable. The Ares I, being built to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, would not be operational until at least 2017, but it would be funded by shutting down the ISS in 2015. NASA was building a vehicle that would have no destination.

Congress agreed with the Committee and cancelled Constellation.

Obama proposed closing the gap by priming the commercial cargo and crew programs. Commercial cargo already flies — the next SpaceX launch is scheduled for tomorrow. Commercial crew was projected to be operational by 2015 until Congress cut the funding the last two years.

To quote Shakespeare, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

And now Mr. Posey wants to turn over control of NASA to the very people responsible for perpetuating U.S. reliance on Russia.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit

Click the arrow to watch a Florida Today video on the new home for Atlantis. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Florida Today reports that the official name for the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit will be ... the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.

“We went through literally hundreds of name combinations for this,” said Bill Moore, Delaware North’s chief operating officer at the KSC visitor complex. “There were three words that kept coming up.”

Space. Shuttle. Atlantis.

“It’s very simple. It honors the soul of what it is,” Moore said. “And we’ll simply call the exhibit Space Shuttle Atlantis.”

The above Florida Today video takes you inside the Atlantis museum construction site. You'll also see the unveiling of the logo. Here's a closeup of that logo display:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SpaceX Tickets Available for March 1

The next SpaceX Dragon has been delivered to their horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 40. Image source: NASA.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex issued a press release this afternoon announcing that tickets will be sold to view the next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from NASA Causeway.

Click here to order tickets. You need to enter the date March 1, 2013 and the time 7:00 AM.

Below is an image of the KSCVC viewing location on NASA Causeway:

Original image source: Google Maps.

It's about four miles from the Causeway to LC-40.

The price of the ticket includes daily admission ($70 for adults) and the launch ($20 for adults). This does not include admission parking ($10 per car).

If you already have the annual Commander's Club pass, you need to call the Reservation Department at (866) 737-5235 to order launch tickets.

Keep in mind that you don't have to enter Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch. You can pull off the side of the road on the 528 Causeway (the Beachline) as it crosses the Banana River, or roadside on SR-401 north of Port Canaveral. Both offer prime views of LC-40 about twelve miles away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

FSDC on Space Talk

Click the arrow to listen to Space Talk.

Laura Seward and Edward Ellegood of the Florida Space Development Council (the local National Space Society chapter) were interviewed February 16 on Space Talk, hosted by Jim Banke.

It's a good listen. The Space Coast needs a grassroots activist group that thinks beyond protecting union jobs.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Future of KSC

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today report on the 21st Century Space Launch Complex. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Florida Today published a major article today by reporter James Dean titled, “Is Kennedy Space Center Ready for the Future?” In the print version, it was on Page 1 of the Sunday newspaper. The article is a comprehensive review of the state of Kennedy Space Center as it transitions into the next generation of human spaceflight, both government and commercial.

On the opinion page is a column by Editorial Page Editor Matt Reed titled, “Hire Me for Kennedy Space Center Upkeep.” It's a tongue-in-cheek look at how much it costs NASA to operate unused facilities such as Launch Complex 39A.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Russia Rocks

Click the arrow to watch Russia Today coverage on YouTube. It's a bit sensationalist but good footage.

A meteor broke over the Chelyabinsk region of Russia today, perhaps the most significant meteorite event since the Tunguska Event in 1908.

According to CNN, “the meteor's explosion created a blast in central Russia equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT, the space agency's officials said Friday, adding that the incident was a once-in-100-years event.”

Image credit: Google Earth, NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Here's coverage from various news outlets:

CNN “Russian Meteor Blast Injures At Least 1,000 people, Authorities Say”

Pravda “Meteor Strikes Earth in Russia's Urals”

RIA Novosti “Meteorite Fireball Slams Into Russia, 1,000 Hurt”

Russia Today “Meteorite Hits Russian Urals: Fireball Explosion Wreaks Havoc, Up to 1,200 Injured”

Spaceflight Now “Streaking Meteor Unleashed Biggest Blast in a Century”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

ISS Research May Have Found Immunity Gene


Click the arrow to watch the European Space Agency video showing ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter performing the immune cells experiment.

The European Space Agency posted on February 4 an article about International Space Station research that may have located the human immunity gene.

Ever since the first humans ventured into space we have known that astronauts can suffer from common infections that would be quickly dealt with by healthy people on Earth. Until now, it was not clear what was blocking astronauts’ immune systems from working normally.

In 2006, ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter performed an experiment on the International Space Station using ESA’s Kubik space incubator. A batch of human immune cells was allowed to float in microgravity while another was held in a centrifuge to simulate gravity. The cells were preserved for analysis back on Earth.

The cells that experienced simulated gravity as if on Earth were found to be in good health compared to their weightless equivalents.

By comparing the samples, investigators saw what was stopping the immune cells from working properly. A specific transmitter in the immune cells, called the Rel/NF-κB pathway, stops working in weightlessness ...

This research could help to tackle two types of disease. Stopping genes that activate our immune system would help to relieve people suffering from autoimmune diseases such as arthritis. The pharmaceutical industry could find the genes that need be active to fight specific illnesses and market tailored antibodies.

Ryan Whitman of offered this insight into the discovery:

It comes down to an important cellular signaling pathway active in human cells called Rel/NF-κB. Of particular interest here is the way it helps regulate immune function. NF-κB is a protein complex that acts as a transcription factor in B and T-cells. What this means, is that when the cell gets the correct external stimulation, it activates a cascade that ends with NF-κB entering the nucleus and flipping on genes that control maturation, activation, and proliferation of these immune cells.

Without gravity, the Rel/NF-κB pathway doesn’t work, and it’s one of the most important activation pathways in the immune system. In the absence of important regulation molecules like NF-κB acting on the genes, immune cells are at a disadvantage in the event of infection. This is important to space travel, sure, but a better understanding of the Rel/NF-κB transcription pathway could lead to improved treatments for infections, autoimmune disease, and inflammatory disorders here on Earth. And it’s another example of space research improving our lives.

I also wanted to note that it took nearly seven years for the results to be published. For those who are impatient for the ISS to "show results," this is an example of how long the scientific peer review process can be before results can be verified and released.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dollars and Sense

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube Lori Garver's presentation.

On February 1, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver addressed the Space Entrepreneurship Forum at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

The San Jose Mercury News reported:

If all goes well, private entrepreneurs will launch a vibrant new space industry into lofty heights -- replacing the space shuttle, lowering the cost of reaching orbit, creating a space tourism industry, mining asteroids, and even exploring Mars.

Engineers, economists, future astronauts and top Obama Administration officials gathered at Stanford University on Friday at a "Space Entrepreneurship" conference, hoping to kindle a new vision for space through privatized spaceflight.

"We are placing our bets on American industry," said Lori Garver, deputy administrator for NASA. "Cargo flights under way are developing the capability of launching people to space from the U.S. on privately owned and operated rockets over the next three years."

Garver said in her opening remarks that if you add up the annual budgets for all the other space agencies in the world, it totals only three-fourths of NASA's budget.

She also spoke at length about the book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dave Sobel. The book is about English instrument maker William Harrison, who won the British Parliament's prize for determining longitude at sea. The government's Board of Longitude was created in 1714 “to administer a scheme of prizes intended to encourage innovators to solve the problem of finding longitude at sea,” according to Wikipedia.

Garver drew a direct correlation between that contest three hundred years ago and the current commercial cargo and crew competitions NASA administers to foster private sector innovation that opens the door to Low Earth Orbit.

An audience member offered an analogy with the Pacific Railroad Acts which created the First Transcontinental Railroad.

For those who find today's Commercial Cargo and Crew Program Office unsettling, the reality is that governments have been creating partnerships with the private sector for centuries to stimulate transportation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Caveat Emptor

On January 29 I posted a blog titled, “Poll Position.” It documented how, over the decades, public support for the government space program has been tepid at best.

Which is why I was suspicious when a poll released by a group called Explore Mars released a poll February 12 claiming that 75% of Americans want to increase NASA's budget to 1% of the federal budget, and 71% believe humans will go to Mars by 2033.

According to the press release:

The poll found that 71 percent of Americans are confident that humans will go to Mars by 2033. When told that there are currently two operational NASA rovers on Mars, 67 percent of respondents agreed the U.S. should send both humans and robots to Mars.

Americans, on average, believe that NASA spending represents 2.4 percent of the federal budget, with a standard deviation of 1.68 percent. In reality, the Administration’s request for NASA for FY2013 was $17.7 billion representing approximately 0.5 percent of the federal budget.

After being presented with this percentage, 75 percent of Americans said they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that it is worthwhile to increase NASA’s percentage of the federal budget to 1 percent to fund a mission to Mars.

Having dabbled in political consulting for many years, and having taken several college-level statistics courses over the years, I was suspicious of this poll's claims so I dug further.

The first thing you check with a poll is the population sample. Who was polled?

If my question was, "Should Barack Obama be re-elected?" and I polled only Republicans, obviously the answer would be skewed. The same if I asked only Democrats.

How you conduct the survey is also important. Telephone surveys are no longer considered reliable, because who has a phone, who answers and what type of phones are called (home, business, cell) all affect the poll's demographics.

So who was polled for this Mars survey?

According to the press release:

The survey was conducted by email and targeted a nationwide sample. All efforts were made to ensure a representative sample of the U.S. population 18 years and older given normal standards of statistical sampling.


That's even less reliable than a phone poll.

A Preliminary Snapshot Report of the poll is on their web site. It provides no more details about the poll's demographics, other than to state, “The full report, including demographic data, is scheduled to be released on March 4, 2013.”

So they won't even tell us who they polled until next month.

To further strain this poll's credulity, it was conducted by Phillips & Company. Visit their web site and you find out it's not a polling business. It's a marketing firm. To quote from their About page:

Phillips & Company is a global communications firm that helps clients create, defend and sustain leadership positions through public relations and business development.

We help companies and organizations focus on the opportunities and strategies that accelerate market adoption and success by creating greater demand for products, services and ideas. Ultimately, we help our clients build and reinforce their position as a trusted leader.

To further erode their credibility, Phillips & Company President Rich Phillips joined the Explore Mars Board of Directors in December. To quote from their press release:

"We are extremely happy to welcome Rich to the board of directors," said Explore Mars Executive Director Chris Carberry. "Rich's background and his ability to bring people together are precisely what Explore Mars needs at this point in time to help move the organization forward and effectively advance the cause of sending humans to Mars" ...

"The Explore Mars team has been instrumental at advancing the cause for exploring the Red Planet and the benefits to U.S. leadership and mankind," said Phillips. "I am confident that a man or woman will step onto the surface of Mars in our lifetime, and I am proud to work with Explore Mars to help fulfill that mission."

This business relationship and conflict of interest is not disclosed in the report.

So we have a feel-good poll conducted by e-mail of an unknown population sample, conducted not by a professional polling firm but by a marketing company whose president is on the client's board of directors.

This would get you punted out of a beginning Statistics course.

Someone at NASA bought into all this, because it was retweeted by @NASA without checking the poll's validity.

I'm all for human spaceflight and exploring Mars when it becomes financially and technologically viable, but let's not rig false polls to mislead the space advocacy movement into thinking there's widespread public support when there isn't. It only harms the cause, and will be dismissed by politicians who know all about polling and how to create a fake one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Palace Intrigue

Click the arrow to watch the National Space Society promotional video raising money for a space advocacy film. has posted the resignation letter of Paul Damphousse, who was the Executive Director of the National Space Society. The resignation letter was dated February 7.

The letter states:

I thank those of you with whom I have worked and who have put the interests of the Society above your own — together we righted our ship and avoided the rocks we were heading toward before I took this position. I believe we also put in place the right changes to set our ship on a new course to prosperity.

During the last year in this role it has become abundantly clear, however, that as long as elements of the existing leadership of the NSS continue to pursue courses of action — and perpetuate an atmosphere — that are not in the best interests of the Society, the challenges the organization face will become insurmountable. For both professional and personal reasons, I have decided to pursue other opportunities.

Damphousse joined NSS in January 2012, so he was in the post a little more than a year.

Damphousse had been scheduled to deliver a lecture tomorrow at the Florida Space Institute in Orlando. I'm told that event has been cancelled, although as of this writing it's still on their web site. The lecture was titled, “Ad Astra: A National Space Society Perspective on our Future in Space.” The extract on the FSI web site states:

We remain at a critical crossroads in space. Decisions being made today, and plans being introduced, will define the human presence in space (or lack thereof) for our lifetimes and for that of our children. The National Space Society (NSS), as the preeminent citizens’ voice on space, pursues a two-fold vision of human settlements beyond the Earth and of utilizing the vast resources of space for the betterment of humanity. The NSS supports several promising on-going efforts which will ultimately help achieve this vision — commercial spaceflight, space technology, in-space/in-situ resource utilization, and aggressive roadmapping are a just a few elements for which the NSS is stalwartly advocating. The NSS will present a plan for this future and the roadmap which will take us there.

NSS is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to underwrite the cost of a space advocacy documentary. According to the promotional video, the film would be “a 15 to 20 minute tour de force that quickly and convincingly lays out the case for why space is vitally important to our future.”

According to their web site, as of this morning the project has raised $41,568 from 580 backers.

The NSS home page states, “If we reach $55,000 we will send DVD copies of this video to the entire Congress, all 50 state Governors, and the White House, so our elected politicians can see just how important space really is to the future of both our nation and the world.”

Just my opinion, but the enterprise strikes me as a colossal waste of money. The NSS home page says the video will be “inspiring” but that's the same argument we get from people who naively think that Congress will spend billions of dollars on an Apollo rerun just to “inspire” American youth. That's not the real world — not in the 1960s, and not today.

It strikes me as a fundamental misread of how American space politics work. The members of Congress fund space programs primarily to protect jobs in their states and districts, which is why critics of the Space Launch System call it the Senate Launch System. NSS should be running as far away from Congress as possible, trying to accelerate commercial development which would take Congress out of the equation.

Our local NSS chapter seems to have figured that out, recently changing its name to the Florida Space Development Council. According to a January 16 press release:

The Florida Space Coast Chapter of the National Space Society (NSS) has changed its name to the Florida Space Development Council (FSDC) to better reflect the group's focus on assisting the development of a robust space-related economy in the state. The FSDC will remain an active chapter of the NSS, working with other Florida chapters to support the NSS mission to promote social, economic, technological, and political change in order to expand civilization beyond Earth.

Another problem may be the NSS byzantine bureaucracy. Michael Mealing at offers this insight:

... [T]he Executive Director is three layers removed from the Board, coordinates with 6 vice-presidents, has no direct access to the Executive Vice-President or any of the Operating Committees. As you can imagine the volunteer side is reluctant to give any control or capability to the paid side. Can anyone expect an organization like that to work? It has 20 operating committees (there are even two separate Interent committees: Interent Services Committee and the Web Oversight Committee). For crying out loud, why?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Escape from Apollo

Click the arrow to watch the Florida Today report, including an interview with Rep. Bill Posey. You may be subjected to an ad first.

Space correspondent Todd Halvorson of Florida Today reports on the history of the emergency escape system at Launch Complex 39 designed for the Apollo program.

Deep beneath NASA’s twin launch pads at Kennedy Space Center are catacombs where few have ventured, mysterious rubberized rooms and hardened survival shelters.

The chambers are critical components of a system that would have whisked Apollo astronauts and pad workers toward safety if a fully fueled Saturn V moon rocket leaked propellant or, even worse, exploded.

The latter was not considered survivable.

The online version of the article includes the above video, which has a clip from a documentary by BBC science historian James Burke. The full version of that clip is available on YouTube at this link.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Resistance is Futile

Click the arrow to watch the trailer on YouTube.

CBS Home Entertainment has been releasing on Blu-Ray fully restored episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

They have announced a special release of the two-part episode “The Best of Both Worlds” on April 30. The promotional trailer is above.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Life's a Beach, Part II

Dune erosion at Launch Complex 39 on October 27. Image source:

On October 27, I posted before and after photos of the dune erosion behind Launch Complex 39 caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Apparently Fox News claims this didn't happen.

Florida Today reports that NASA is seeking funds from a Sandy relief bill to help restore damage at Kennedy Space Center and the Wallops Flight Facility.

As the ocean closes in on two historic launch pads, Kennedy Space Center officials have yet to hear how much they’ll see of the $15 million Congress just allocated for NASA as part of the $51 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill.

KSC hopes for at least $4 million to fix 1.2 miles of eroding dunes that stand between the Atlantic Ocean and the two former space shuttle launch pads — 39A and 39B.

Those pads hold the future of human spaceflight, but an ever-encroaching ocean imperils their future.

“If we have a tropical storm and we have our dune breached, there could be impacts to the pad,” said John Shaffer, a physical scientist at KSC. “If we don’t do something now, the infrastructure is going to be irreparably damaged.”

But Fox News claims this is a "scam."

Fox News, the New York Post and the blogosphere blasted the $4 million for NASA beach repairs that President Barack Obama included in his request to Congress for Hurricane Sandy relief. After all, the storm’s center passed far off Florida, they noted, some 220 miles off Cape Canaveral.

Last month, “Fox & Friends” aired a graphic titled “Sandy Scam,” listing the $4 million for KSC among six spending items.

The "Sandy Scam" graphic that appeared on Fox News. Image source:

The New York Post falsely claimed that the KSC request was part of "a huge Christmas stocking of goodies for federal agencies and even the state of Alaska" requested by President Obama, using Sandy as a ruse.

Media Matters for America labelled these accusations a "false attack."

Matt Drudge, Fox News, and The New York Post misrepresented the content of a bill to provide federal aid for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in order to claim the bill is a "scam" that is "filled with holiday goodies unrelated to storm damage." In fact, less than 0.3 percent of the spending identified is unrelated to Sandy, and that spending is largely allocated to separate disasters.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Another Orion Delay

Aviation Week reported on January 9 that the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Capsule is 4,000 pounds too heavy for its recovery parachutes.

Now comes a report from the Huntsville Times that the launch abort system may not be tested in flight until 2017.

The flat budget facing NASA is forcing the space agency to delay a planned flight test of the Orion capsule's launch abort system at least two years, according to a report today. The website reported the delay in an account of recent testimony by a top NASA official to a review panel.

According to Space News, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, Dan Dumbacher, told the panel on Feb. 4 that the in-flight test of the system designed to save astronauts from a launch abort will not happen until the full Space Launch System makes its flight debut in 2017.

"This is a development problem," the website quoted Dumbacher telling members of the National Research Council's Committee on Human Spaceflight. "You run into problems along the way, and there are things that have to be moved around and things that have to be reshaped."